Melissa Etheridge loves to rock, but she also likes to lounge — or play the lounge, at least.
“When I was in Boston I used to play across from the Hancock Center at a little place, it was Ken’s by George at the time,” Etheridge recalled during a recent chat with Boston.com. “I used to play in the lounge, so I can get kind of loungy and piano bar-like sometimes — and that’s fine!”
It’s that side of the famously hard-rocking singer-songwriter that people can expect, at least partially, when she and her “big piano” — along with a stage full of other instruments — start a four-show solo residency at City Winery June 5.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Etheridge, who still considers Boston her “first city” after coming here from small-town Kansas to attend Berklee College of Music in the early ’80s.
“It was wonderful to kind of spend my formative years, a couple of them, in Boston, coming from a small midwestern town,” says Etheridge. “It’s just such a lovely city to be your first city — it’s not as scary as New York, it’s clean, it’s nice, there’s a lot of obviously college-aged people there, and I really enjoyed it.”
It was also the place where she first learned what it was like to be a working musician, before hightailing it to Los Angeles to make it big — which she did, eventually scoring two Grammys, an Oscar, a bunch of top 30 hits and a six-time platinum album, 1993’s “Yes I Am.”
“I was able to have a job there playing music,” she recalls of her time in Boston. “Even when it was freezing cold, it was fun. You know, it got cold there in Boston a couple of times.”
Even colder than Kansas? “That wind-coming-off-the-ocean cold, that’s a special kind of cold,” she laughs.
Etheridge, fresh off a high-profile appearance on “American Idol” last week, sat down with Boston.com recently to talk about solo shows, Springsteen, what to expect from her City Winery stint — and what “Etheridge Island” is, exactly.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Boston.com: So why the break from your current full-band tour to do these solo shows?
Melissa Etheridge: Well, years ago, the City Winery people came to me and asked if there was a special thing I could do, a small thing I could do in a couple of their venues, and I said, well, I can bring this kind of … I don’t even know what to call it, this creation of music that’s a very intimate thing that I’ve been doing here streaming during the pandemic. So we’re kind of taking a little break from everything and I’m just going to come out and do one week in New York and then one week in Boston.
And so what is the preparation like for something like that — how different is it from what you’re usually doing for your full band shows?
It’s very different — it’s like deconstructing your favorite meal and taking all the ingredients apart and going, OK, I’m going to put these together in a different way, and I’m going to be the only one putting these ingredients in: I’m going to play the rhythm and it’s going to sound like this, the bass, all the different sounds, I’ve got keyboards, I’ve got all kinds of things, and I’m creating it in the moment — there is nothing pre-recorded. It’s just like cooking something new every single night with these different ingredients.
So is it going to be different each night, depending on what night we see you, and what mood you’re in?
Oh yeah. I mean, I’ll have to play a handful of the hits because you’re coming to see me, so we’re going to sing “Come To My Window” and everything like that. But the Monday show, that would be a little bit more intimate because it’s a Monday and people are more intimate on Mondays. Then the Friday night show, the Saturday night show, that’s gonna rock … I’ve played enough bars and clubs my whole life to know how audiences are different, and I’ll just flow with it. I might get a Thursday crowd that’s like a Saturday crowd, you never know. And because it’s just me, I might take requests — I might just do whatever I feel like doing, but in the moment.
Are you more prone to talk to the audience? You do that quite a bit anyway, but I imagine it would be even easier to do it at a smaller venue.
I am very, very chatty, yes. [laughs] I’ll tell stories, I’ll get going and it’s fun … I will have a big piano there at the City Winery, and I like being in the moment with whatever the crowd feels.
Speaking of chatty performers, I remember personally hearing your first album in ’88 or ’89, and thinking, finally, this is somebody who could take the mantle from Springsteen! Do you still consider him an influence and a role model in the way you approach your career?
Oh absolutely — you know, what would Bruce do? He’s been so inspiring, just everything he’s done in his career and how he has made his music and kept his live performances going — it’s amazing.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about something else you’ve got coming up, called Etheridge Island, which is an actual thing. What is up with that?
Well, we had done a few years of cruises and we’ve left the cruising world and decided that we wanted a destination place, so this is an actual island — connected by a bridge, so it’s not like you’ve got to sail out there or anything — but it’s right off of Cancun in Mexico so it’s easy to get to and a big resort, and it’s all ours.
And it’s all about music and strong, mostly female artists — that’s who I like to bring in, but everyone is welcome, men, women, everything in between. So it’s myself, it’s Wynonna [Judd], it’s Ani DiFranco, it’s Delta Rae and Larkin Poe, and just some great kinds of music — different kinds but all just focused on live performance. And a lot of wellness options — you’ve got sound baths and yoga, so it’s just a real get-yourself-back, give yourself a break for four days, listen to some great music, have some great food and recharge yourself. And it’s all around Labor Day weekend.
So will you be hanging out by the pool?
You know, I meet every single person that goes, definitely, I take a picture with every single one and you see me around. It’s a pretty great thing.
So what advice do you have for the Boston audience that’s getting ready to come out and see you at City Winery?
Just be ready for a night of music — you know, the Winery is very intimate, it’s very rare that I get to do such an intimate show. You’ll hear your favorite songs, you’ll hear deep tracks, you’ll hear them in a way you’ve never heard them before. I’m hoping you will be entertained and fired up and feel better leaving than you did when you got there.
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